Three years after launching the brewery and supper club they dubbed Birch’s on the Lake (1310 Wayzata Blvd., Long Lake, 952-473-7373, birchsonthelake.com), co-owners Burton Joseph and Brennan Greene are turning their attentions eastward.
When their Birch’s Lowertown Taproom & Barrel House opens on Sept. 11, it’ll be the last piece to fill in the Market House Collaborative (289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, birchslowertown.com), the interdependent, food-centric collective that includes Octo Fishbar restaurant — the work of chefs Tim McKee and Shane Oporto — a St. Paul outlet for chef Michelle Gayer’s Salty Tart bakery/cafe and two retail counters: Almanac Fish and Peterson Craftsman Meats.
“We’ve had success in the western suburbs, and I felt that this was a good way to expose our brand to the east side,” said Joseph. “And any time I can connect with someone like Tim McKee, I’m going to try.”
Greene, the brewmaster, plans to initiate the bar’s 10 taps with a few Birch staples: blonde ale, American IPA, raspberry shandy and a French roast coffee-chocolate ale. Specialty beers will include a cinnamon-chile-chocolate stout and a pair of barrel-aged brews: a blood orange sour and a dry hop sour.
“We started making the sours for fun,” said Joseph. “Aging in barrels — whether they once held red wine, or bourbon, or whatever — really gives a unique flavor to beers. They take a lot of time — we’ve been barrel-aging sours for almost 2 ½ years — but it’s really a fun direction that beers are going in.”
The bar will also feature four specialty cocktails on tap, using spirits from Tattersall Distilling in Minneapolis.
“With the Saints stadium across the street, we want to be able to pour beers and mixed drinks quickly and efficiently,” said Joseph.
Doors will open at 4 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. weekends.
They’ve tapped Oporto to craft the brewery’s menu, which will be prepared in a small — repeat, small — corner of the Octo Fishbar kitchen.
“They’re basically a built-in food truck for us,” said Joseph.
Oporto’s $14-and-under menu takes advantage of the riches at the nearby Peterson Craftsman Meats counter.
“When I think of sour beers, I think ‘high acid,’ ” said Oporto. “So I went very meat-forward with the menu.”
That starts with burgers, including a double-patty beef cheeseburger (on a Salty Tart bun, of course), using a premium beef blend from a single cow.
“People say that the best burger is ribeye-chuck-sirloin,” said Oporto. “But in order for us to properly use as much of the animal as we can, our ground beef will have all of that, plus New York strip scraps, some round, whatever we can use.”
Along with a bratwurst burger, there will also be a lamb burger paying homage to two former McKee properties: La Belle Vie and Libertine.
A benefit of having a butcher shop next door is flexibility.
“If there’s something that the butcher wants to do — let’s say he wants to make corned beef — then I’ll be more than glad to put a Reuben on the menu,” said Oporto.
There’ll be knockwurst (“It’s one of my favorite sausages; it’s an adult hot dog,” said Oporto) and a beef heart pastrami sandwich dressed with a cheese fondue.
“No one else in town is doing that kind of beef-and-cheese sandwich,” said Oporto. “We want to push customers out of their boundaries, and when you cover it with cheese fondue, that’s going to help quite a bit.”
Other dishes will include tacos and Japanese-inspired fried chicken, plus a handful of sides.
The ever-changing dessert selection will come courtesy of the Salty Tart. Oh, and there will be pizza. Oporto will be buying frozen pizzas from Mucci’s Italian (786 Randolph Av., St. Paul, muccisitalian.com), the same ones available in the frozen foods sections at Kowalski’s and other local supermarkets.
That’s not all. The brewery’s lower level — at least the space that’s not devoted to ferment tanks — will feature a piano bar, the natural habitat of musicians Jenny and Donnie La Marca.
“It’ll be Elvis-meets-Liberace,” said Joseph. “It’s going to feel somewhere in between 1968 and 1972, a funky speakeasy for people in the Lowertown area.”
When the basement bar debuts on Oct. 4, the plan is to open after 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Ton of bacon, literally
What does it take to produce 12,056 BLTs for the Minnesota State Fair?
Yes, that’s how many bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches that the Birchwood Cafe (3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., birchwoodcafe.com) produced in its partnership with the Minnesota Farmers Union during the 12-day run of the 2018 Great Minnesota Get-Together.
It was the first year that Birchwood chef Marshall Paulsen and his fairgrounds crew — composed primarily of current and former B’wood staffers — were selling the $12 item at the fair. The newcomer proved to be a runaway hit.
Paulsen started logistics planning early in the year, reaching out to his long list of local and regional farmers to create a truly made-in-Minnesota delicacy. The result was an ideal product for a venue that should showcase all that is good about our state.
“This partnership with MFU is completely gratifying for me,” said Birchwood owner Tracy Singleton. “Knowing where your food comes from is a message that we share at the Birchwood every day. But sharing that on a big stage like the fair allows us to expand that message in a really grand way.”
For those interested in a by-the-numbers rundown, here goes: Paulsen used 2,300 pounds of bacon, 1,950 pounds of heirloom tomatoes and 3,240 heads of lettuce.
The effort required 96 gallons of sweet corn-chipotle coulis and 55 gallons of basil-Swiss chard pesto mayonnaise.
Then there’s the 581 enormous sheets of focaccia that Baker’s Field Flour & Bread (1401 NE. Marshall St., Mpls., bakersfieldflour.com) produced.
The organic tomatoes — a mix of colors — were sourced at Riverbend Farm in Delano, Featherstone Farm in Rushford and Twin Organics in Northfield.
The pesto’s basil and Swiss chard both hailed from Featherstone. Lettuce was cultivated at Happy Fish Aquaponics in Stacy. Sweet corn was sourced from a half-dozen organic growers.
The all-important bacon came from Hidden Stream Farm in Elgin. Paulsen had crews doing nothing but par-cooking bacon for four 10-hour shifts.
“We’ve got 24 five-gallon buckets of bacon fat,” he said with a laugh. (Note to vegetarians and vegans: Expect some of that bacon fat to find its way into the cafe’s decadent French silk pie during the holidays.) Ingredients were prepped in the cafe’s kitchen, stored at the Good Acre in Falcon Heights and trucked to the edge of the fairgrounds, where Paulsen would transfer them to the stand via a hand-pulled wagon. The sandwiches were assembled to order in the cafe’s new food truck, which made its debut at the fair.
Paulsen is an old hand at the fair, taking a job at a taco stand when he was 16 years old.
“Being at the fair has been a dream come true,” said. “It’s not even work. It’s fun.”
(For those who didn’t get to this year’s fair, the BLT — made with a baked-on-the-premises bread instead of that Bakers’ Field focaccia — remains on the Birchwood’s menu until local tomatoes disappear.)
Singleton is already thinking ahead to 2019.
“The reception just blew us away, and we learned so much,” she said. “Next year we’ll be even better. I hope they’ll let us introduce a few more menu items. And I want to put an egg on that BLT.”
Rose Street Patisserie (171 N. Snelling Av. N., St. Paul, rosestreet.co) has opened its Saintly City outpost, filling a former Starbucks with light (those new windows sure help) and chef John Kraus’ meticulously prepared breads, sweets, pastries, tartines, quiche and ice cream. Coffee, too.
Diners who want to get in a last meal at Market Bar-B-Que (1414 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., marketbbq.com) before the restaurant’s Eat Street location closes (it’s being replaced by an apartment building, and is relocating to northeast Minneapolis), hurry up. Owners Steve Polski and Anthony Polski have set a final date of Sept. 16.